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NBA Draft 2018: What the experts are saying about the Kentucky Wildcats

A great breakdown of Kentucky’s top NBA prospect and their pro potential.

NBA: NBA Draft Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

We’re roughly two and a half months away from NBA draft night.

With Shai Gilgeous-Alexander pushing back his decision for another week and Kevin Knox reportedly “torn” between declaring for the draft and coming back to school, here is the latest mock draft from Bleacher Report as well Kevin O’Connor’s prospect rankings.

Mock Draft

Bleacher Report’s Jonathan Wasserman released his post-NCAA Tournament mock draft Tuesday morning following Villanova’s crowning of the national championship. The mock was of the entire first round and included two Kentucky Wildcats, both in the top-15.

First was Knox, who Wasserman has going 11th to the Charlotte Hornets. Knox would join last year’s 11th overall pick (and former Wildcat) Malik Monk. The Hornets have missed the playoffs for two straight seasons and would look to add Knox as a viable piece in their youth movement.

Wasserman had this to say about the Kentucky forward.

“Knox would give Charlotte needed scoring from both forward positions. He finished his freshman year averaging 15.6 points, showing the ability to make shots working off the ball as a spot-up option and shooter off screens. Knox needs to improve his shot-creating and defense, but for an 18-year old, his tools (6’9, 215 lbs), production and skill set create too strong of a case at No. 11.”

Second was Gilgeous-Alexander, who Wasserman has going 15th to the Denver Nuggets. Gilgeous-Alexander would join former Wildcats Jamal Murray and Trey Lyles. The Nuggets will likely miss out on the playoffs in a gritty Western Conference after an injury-plagued season but will have a strong case to make next year.

Wasserman had constructive criticism to start, but ended with praise for the Kentucky standout.

“Gilgeous-Alexander had a strong run in March before finishing 2-10 in Kentucky’s loss to Kansas State in the NCAA Tournament. He lacks the jets of a typical starting NBA point guard, and it showed in his final game.”

“At 6’6”, Gilgeous-Alexander has terrific size and length, which he uses to pass over defenses and guard multiple positions. And he averaged 14.4 points and 5.1 assists on 48.5 percent shooting by compensating for limited athleticism with crafty footwork, ball skills and finishing instincts.”

Draft Prospects

Kevin O’Connor is widely known and respected for his NBA draft analysis. Last year, O’Connor was higher than anyone on both Rookie of the Year candidates Donovan Mitchell and Jayson Tatum. This year, O’Connor has three former Wildcats in the top-20 of his Players to Watch.

Unlike Wasserman, O’Connor has Gilgeous-Alexander ahead of Knox. O’Connor has Gilgeous-Alexander cracking his top-10, slipping in at nine ahead of Miles Bridges, Mikal Bridges, Trae Young and Jalen Brunson.

The Kentucky guard’s description read “a long, athletic combo guard who grinds defensively and flashes playmaking skills, but needs to improve his jumper.”

O’Connor said Shai draws comparisons to Shaun Livingston, Patrick McCaw and Michael Carter-Williams.

Here are the “pluses” O’Connor had for Gilgeous-Alexander.

  • Plays with fire and energy.
  • Super-active off-ball defender who uses his long arms to get steals, cause deflections and take away passing angles.
  • Excellent lateral quickness with good fundamentals, which makes him an immediately impactful on-ball defender.
  • He has good touch on his floater and on layups. He shoots well from the line, which suggests he can continue honing his jumper.
  • Slippery ball handler who gets where he wants on the floor and draws a ton of fouls.
  • Displays natural pick-and-roll instincts using hesitations and pace to keep defenders off balance.

Here are the “minuses.”

  • Average athlete for a guard; doesn’t get much elevation on layup attempts.
  • Solid playmaker, but takes too many careless risks; he must learn how to value possessions.
  • Awkward push shot with a low release when shooting off the catch, so he may need to tweak his mechanics.
  • His pull-up jumper works, but it’s as aesthetically pleasing as Markelle Fultz’s post-shoulder-injury. Can that translate in the NBA?
  • Skinny without a frame ideal for adding muscle; will he be as effective on defense against bulky guards and wings?

Following Gilgeous-Alexander was Knox, who O’Connor ranked as the 15th best prospect. Knox’s description read “a raw forward with the requisite athletic traits to be a go-to scorer if he puts it all together.”

O’Connor said Knox draws comparisons to Tobias Harris, Al Harrington and Jeff Green.

Here are the “pluses.”

  • Skilled finisher around the rim; uses either hand, can yam on defenders, and has fluid body control driving around opponents.
  • Displays pick-and-roll scoring upside; can pull up, get to the rim, or take advantage of smaller players on a switch.
  • Flashes shooting skills spotting up and running off screens, though his percentages are mediocre.
  • Savvy scorer without the ball; shows a knack for spacing on the perimeter and when to cut. Runs the floor hard in transition.
  • Potentially versatile defender if he locks in — he has the athleticism, length, and lateral quickness.

Here are the “minuses.”

  • Settles for too many midrange jumpers and floaters early in the shot clock.
  • Lacks passing instincts.
  • Average rebounder; teams will be hurting on the boards if they choose to play Knox as a 4 in smaller lineups.
  • Takes too many naps on defense, fails to contest shots, keeps his hands by his side, and rarely makes high-impact or timely plays.
  • Versatility is theoretical; he’s not quick enough to contain elite guards and needs to get a lot stronger to defend interior bigs.

The third Wildcat in O’Connor’s top-20 is Hamidou Diallo. Diallo was regarded as a late first round pick last summer before electing to return to school. However, after a disappointing season, isn’t being mentioned in most mocks, including Wasserman’s.

Diallo’s description read “an energetic and explosive guard whose success hinges on the development of his offense.

O’Connor said Diallo draws comparisons to Tony Allen, Fred Jones and P.J. Hairston.

Here are Diallo’s “pluses.”

  • Potentially a high-impact, versatile defender due to his combination of length, strength and aggression.
  • Long enough to block shots from the weak side.
  • Can fall asleep defending off-ball, but makes up for it with hustle.
  • Good rebounder.
  • Very fluid, quick first step, and good body control, which is on full display in the open floor.
  • Mixes change-of-pace moves with turbo drives into the lane, though his finishing ability could stand to improve.

Here are the “minuses.”

  • Rough jumper mechanics; shoots on the way down, doesn’t hold his follow-through and has inconsistent form.
  • Struggles from the free throw line and lacks touch on floaters, so his shooting issues could be a biomechanical issue.
  • Ineffective finisher with either hand, though he’ll throw down big dunks.
  • Sloppy ball handler; he’ll need to get better fundamentally to maximize his athleticism.
  • Unnatural lead guard; his decision-making is poor, he forces plays, and he’s an inaccurate passer.

While it’s unclear (for now) who will leave and who will stay, it’s safe to say none of these players are truly “ready” for the NBA. However, they live in an era where the standard is “one-and-done.”

Gilgeous-Alexander should absolutely leave, as his performances this postseason would be difficult to sustain over the course of an entire season next year. Knox, though, could play much better and returning for a another year of college to increase his draft position could add millions to his bank account. Diallo, who would likely be selected in the second round, can almost only go up from here. Returning to Kentucky certainly makes sense but no one would blame him for leaving and not risking another “down” season.

Decisions are expected to come as early as next week, so stay tuned with for the latest news.